The unlikely star of 'Priscilla'

By EW Staff
Updated September 09, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

While he still cuts a striking figure with his shock of white hair and cobalt- blue eyes, Terence Stamp at 56 is, naturally, not the Adonis he was at 21. Transforming himself into the flirty transsexual Bernadette for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, he avoided mirrors and prayed that movie magic would make him beautiful—even when he was tucking himself into tangerine fishnets, a leotard, water-filled boobs, and brassy red pigtails. At the ( movie’s jam-packed Cannes showing last May, Stamp faced the truth. ”I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls. ”I looked like some old hooker, you know. If I’d been a real girl, I’d have gone to bed in tears.”

Thirty-two years after winning acclaim as the court-martialed sailor in Billy Budd, Stamp is suddenly enjoying a second brush with success. ”With Billy Budd I sort of awoke and I was famous,” he says. ”It was like being in a rocket when the first fuel goes off. I thought I must be happy. I had all these wishes come true.” Namely, he nabbed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 1962’s Billy Budd, and he conducted a heated affair with the world’s first supermodel, Jean Shrimpton, until she dumped him. ”Then the ’60s ended and the good parts stopped coming in and it all collapsed.” So Stamp traveled around the world, seeking truth in gurus and women, including a geisha for a time.

In 1978, the actor launched a comeback as a Hollywood villain with back-to- back parts in Superman and Superman II. ”The rug that European actors stand on in Hollywood is very small,” he sighs. Playing a ruthless corporate raider in Wall Street ”was a good part but it was not a lot to sink your teeth into. While I saw that (Priscilla) was always going to be risky, it was a ride in the National. It was taking big jumps.”

Stamp isn’t banking on an Australian musical about drag queens to change the industry’s perception of him. ”I’m sure Hollywood will say: ‘We know he’s a great villain. Now we know he has great legs.”’